CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A pastor and his wife are suing a waiter at Steak 'n Shake and the company itself after their son was hospitalized because of hot sauce he ate.
Tim and Mary Katherine Gann visited the Steak 'n Shake on Oct. 9, 2009, and the waiter offered their son, Caleb, "hot sauce," giving him a bottle labeled Mega Death Hot Sauce that is not served by the restaurant chain, said Debbie Richman, owner of the franchise at 220 Paul Huff Parkway.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 30 by Bilbo Law Office in Bradley County Circuit Court, said the substance led to "the infliction of severe injuries to his [Caleb's] body and permanent damages."
The Ganns are suing for compensatory damages of $10,000 and punitive damages of $50,000.
After consuming the sauce, Caleb reacted with "flaring-up of hives on his skin, difficulty breathing and severe pain and inflammation of his digestive system including his mouth and throat," according to the lawsuit.
The Ganns took their son from the restaurant to Skyridge Medical Center for treatment, the suit states.
The waiter did not warn anyone of the nature of the substance, and Caleb Gann put it to his chili, according to the lawsuit.
The manufacturer of Mega Death Hot Sauce - Blair's Sauces and Snacks - claims in the product description that it "contains ingredients 500 times hotter than a jalapeno chili" and doesn't recommend it for use without dilution.
Richman said she believes the waiter bought the sauce on a trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. She declined to name the employee but said he no longer is employed by the restaurant.
The lawsuit may be the first in history to allege a "hot-sauce injury," wrote Matthew Heller, a writer for OnPoint legal news.
Darald Schaffer, an employee at Bilbo Law, said the office is not authorized by the Gann family to release any information on the case at this time.
Tim Gann, a pastor at Cleveland's Prospect Church of God, declined comment.
"We're not talking about that right now," he said. "Our lawyer said not to talk about it at all."
Caleb Gann and Mary Katherine Gann did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit claims the waiter "was not properly screened prior to employment and was negligently hired."
Richman said the waiter was screened the same as every other person considered for the job.
"I'm always expecting a lawsuit," she said. "I was not surprised. But I am surprised it also included the corporation and the waiter.
"Everything people do anymore, they want to hold other people responsible," Richman said. "It becomes someone else's fault."